Showing posts with label Catherine Hellmann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catherine Hellmann. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

REVIEW: Lyric Opera's The Flying Dutchman Now Playing Through October 7th, 2023

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Lyric Opera's The Flying Dutchman 


By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

Two and a half hours for an opera by Richard Wagner? One act? I’m out the door by 10:00? Sign me up! (I already have my Ring Cycle Merit badge, thank you very much.) 

Tamara Wilson as Senta and Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman.

All Photos: Todd Rosenberg

“The Flying Dutchman,” sung in German with English subtitles, as conducted by the charismatic Music Director Enrique Mazzola, is a delight. Based on an old myth about a ghost ship that must sail the seven seas forever, the doomed captain made a deal with the devil (hello, Faust?) during a storm. Now he must find true love to lift the burden of this curse. Every seven years, he is able to reappear and try to convince a woman to love him and break the spell. (My date commented, ”He’s in search of True Love.” I replied, “He has to find a sucker to stop the spell.” Hmmm…maybe I need to check my cynicism.) 

The overture was suspenseful and set the stage for events to come. There is drama on the high seas where there is no promise of return. The Dutchman may be lost forever, and his dismal crew (lit underneath the stage in red lights) will be adrift for eternity. 

Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman.

The set by Allen Moyer, who also designed the costumes, is on a disorienting tilt to portray the rocking waves of the water. The singers do a great job of lilting to the sides to simulate the turbulence of the sea. The opera chorus is always fabulous. The men portray the sailors and crew of the ghost trip while the women’s chorus represent the weavers working spinning wheels and the monotony of textile factories. 

Tomasz Konieczny as the Dutchman was powerful and mesmerizing. (Although the “Kool Ghoul” makeup was spooky but odd.) Local hometown star Tamara Wilson was incredible as Senta, the woman who yearns to save the doomed Dutchman (“sucka,” I’m thinking…Don’t do it, Senta!!). Not every opera singer is also a convincing actor, but they both were wonderful. I wasn’t wowed by the costumes, and Ms. Wilson was clearly visible but should ask the wardrobe crew about the Bozo wig.  

By the end of the show, I glanced at my watch and was amazed two hours had passed. That’s a very positive sign for a lengthy opera. The music is glorious. 

Wonderful start to the new Lyric Season.

Catherine Hellmann spends her life at school, the theater, and out walking in the city. 

Mika Kares as Daland, Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman, 

and the Company of The Flying Dutchman.

What You Need to Know About Wagner’s

The Flying Dutchman

The Chicago cultural season begins with Music Director Enrique Mazzola conducting his first Wagner opera at Lyric

September 23 – October 7, 2023

Wagnerian opera makes a grand return to Chicago whenThe Flying Dutchman docks at Lyric Opera of Chicago from September 23 to October 7, 2023. Considered to be composer Richard Wagner’s first masterpiece,The Flying Dutchman is legendary for its eerie storyline, complex themes of sacrifice and redemption, and soaring melodies. More than 165 musical and dramatic artists — including some of the world’s most sought-after soloists — bring this riveting odyssey to life on Chicago’s biggest stage.

Opera’s most thrilling ghost story sets sail. Not seen at Lyric in more than 20 years, The Flying Dutchman is perhaps Wagner’s most haunting opera. This tempestuous work tells the story of a sailor known as the Dutchman, who is doomed to roam the seas forever. The Dutchman’s only hope to break the curse is (*drumroll please*) true love. Senta, a young Norwegian woman, falls quickly and deeply in love with the Dutchman and, well, the story only sinks from there. Through recurring musical themes (known as leitmotifs) and a rich orchestration, Wagner leaves the audience holding their breath to see what comes next for the love-struck couple. 

Enrique Mazzola kicks off a season of historic "firsts." In his third season as Lyric’s Music Director, Enrique Mazzola leads the esteemed Lyric Opera Orchestra through a series of momentous firsts. This season opener, brought to life with a 72-piece orchestra, will mark Mazzola’s first time conducting Wagner at Lyric. In January, Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s Champion will mark his first contemporary work at Lyric, and he finishes Lyric’s opera season with his first-ever production of Aida, which also marks the 100th opera of his storied career. In a final "first" of the 2023/24 Season, Mazzola will conduct Mozart’s Requiem, his first foray into Mozart at Lyric. This diverse season allows Mazzola to showcase his broad repertoire and the Orchestra to display its mastery of a variety of musical styles. 

An opera that lets the Chorus shine. Wagner’s score of The Flying Dutchmanhighlights the exceptional Lyric Opera Chorus, with contrasting men’s and women’s (and even ghosts’) choruses throughout the opera. Led by Michael Black, Lyric’s Chorus Director and Head of Music, the powerful 90-member Chorus has a staggering impact on this haunting story. 

A star-studded cast comes aboard. Bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny and soprano Tamara Wilson give entrancing portrayals of the Dutchman and Senta. Hailed as "The Breakout Star of the Met Opera’s Ring" by The New York Times, Konieczny returns to Lyric following his acclaimed portrayal of the title role inWozzeck in the 2015/16 Season. Wilson, a stand-out Verdian in recent seasons at Lyric — who was also deemed "quite the Wagnerian" by The New York Times — returns following her most recent headlining role as Elvira in Ernani in the 2022/23 Season. With piercing arias, longing duets, and energizing dialogues, this captivating pair and their fiery vocal power make The Flying Dutchman a must-see.

Experienced and emerging artists round out the cast. Renowned bass Mika Kares returns to Lyric as Senta’s father Daland. The cast also features tenorRobert Watson as Erik and mezzo-soprano Melody Wilson as Mary, both in their Lyric debuts. Ryan Capozzo, a third-year member of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center Ensemble, returns to the mainstage as the Steersman.

Sets, costumes, and lighting combine for a theatrically spellbinding production. Director Christopher Alden’s production creates the illusion of a haunted galleon battling raging waters; it is bold and modern while retaining the authenticity of the story itself. (Wagnerian spectacle must run in the family — Alden’s twin brother and fellow opera director, David Alden, directed a new production of The Flying Dutchman at Sante Fe Opera this past summer). Allen Moyer’s creative sets and costumes combine to create a spooky atmosphere, andAnne Militello’s shadowy lighting design gives the production its eerie finishing touches, in her Lyric debut. 

Wagner returns to Lyric with drama on the high seas. In an intense return to Lyric, Wagner’s first famous opera does what all of Wagner’s operas do: It draws you in with a captivating story, layered musical composition, and soaring vocal lines written for richly drawn characters. (And at just 2 hours and 20 minutes, it does it all in half the usual time for a Wagner opera.)

Ryan Capozzo as Steersman, Tomasz Konieczny as The Dutchman, 

and the Company of The Flying Dutchman.

Important to know

·        Five chances to see The Flying Dutchman: September 23, 27, October 1 matinee, 4 matinee, and 7, 2023.

·        A running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes; performed without intermission.

·        Sung in German, with easy-to-follow English translations projected above the stage.

·        Information and tickets: visit or call 312.827.5600.

Lyric’s presentation of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is generously made possible by an Anonymous DonorJosef & Margot Lakonishok, and Bulley & Andrews.

Maestro Enrique Mazzola is generously sponsored by Alice & John ButlerH. Gael NeesonSylvia Neil & Daniel Fischel, and the Robert and Penelope Steiner Family Foundation as members of the Enrique Circle. The Enrique Circle is comprised of Lyric's most dedicated supporters who are committed to championing Maestro Enrique Mazzola's exciting artistic vision and legacy.

Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.

Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud and Music Director Enrique Mazzola, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.

Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.

Join us @LyricOpera on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, and Facebook. #LongLivePassion

For more information, visit

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

REVIEW: Lyric Opera World Premiere of PROXIMITY On Stage Through April 8, 2023

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What you need to know about the world premiere of 


at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Chicago takes center stage in this trio of new American works united by the bold vision of director Yuval Sharon's groundbreaking production, March 24 – April 8, 2023

Review of Proximity: A Trio of New North American Operas at Lyric Opera

By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

I was a season opera subscriber for over ten years. I never heard an “f bomb” sung on the Lyric stage until the premiere of Proximity last Friday night. The word “bitch,” either. Wow. Contemporary for sure. 

There are three short operas in the cycle: The Walkers (music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and libretto by Anna Deavere Smith), Four Portraits (music and libretto by Caroline Shaw with Jocelyn Clarke also on libretto), and Night (music by John Luther Adams and libretto by John Haines). 

My favorite was The Walkers set in modern day Chicago around gangs. Opera is certainly dramatic, and what could have more drama than the antagonism among gang rivals? The opera examines the likelihood of violence begetting violence. One character has killed a young man at 17; his victim’s family, he notes, looked just like his own. These young people are constantly confronting trauma and trying to survive. (I taught in Englewood for a year; one of my students lifted his shirt to show me his bullet scars. Another young man was shot on his front lawn with his mom watching. Miraculously, after numerous surgeries, he survived.) 

The rival gangs still remember their leaders who went to jail in 1963: Jeff Fort and Larry Hoover. Their hatred against each other’s groups is deep-seated. The Preacher Man, sung by American baritone Gordon Hawkins, urges peace; he reiterates that he’s “got status.” But one of the gang members retorts,” Your theology ain’t my mythology.”  

An unexpected character was Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and Secretary of Education (and basketball buddy) under President Barack Obama. (He had a snarky nickname in our household for never calling a snow day when I taught in CPS; I actually snickered when he appeared onstage.) Arne founded CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny) which “provides jobs, counseling, education support, job training, mental health, therapy,” according to librettist Anna Deavere Smith, better known as an actress on The West Wing and Nurse Jackie. Arne, played by Jeff Parker, has a few of the best quotes in the show: “You have to give people a reason to stop shooting…and put the guns down.” He also laments how “nothing gets solved.” 

Another devastating story was sung movingly by Chicago native and soprano Whitney Morrison as Yasmine Miller, a bereaved mother who lost her one-year old baby boy to gun violence. In June 2020, the 22-year-old mom and her toddler were driving home from a laundromat at 60th and Halsted. Shots fired from a nearby car killed Sincere. Ms. Miller delivered a powerful performance that conveyed the young mother’s heartbreak. The audience was very receptive to her compelling rendition. 

Four Portraits had much-needed humor in its storyline, poking fun at the technology in our lives that we now take for granted. One of the characters was named GPS, ably sung by Corrine Wallace-Crane. Yes, she sings the recognizable directions that lead us to work, home, shopping, and everywhere any more. There was laughter over the familiarity of being instructed to turn right, left, how many feet lie ahead, passing streets, etc. There were also chuckles as actors rode the CTA, and “doors closing” was announced. 

The giant screened set and projected graphics really benefited the show’s modern appeal. I liked the giant maps of Chicago expanding into the entire world. They were one of the best parts of the show. (I had wondered how the Lyric would handle having Carmen with its huge sets in the repertory.) Jason H. Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras are to be commended as Production Designers for their clever, inspired graphics. 

Although the show overall was confusing with how the vastly different storylines jumped around (I would have preferred a more streamlined performance), the Lyric Opera is to be commended for trying to stay relevant with modern audiences. (There were quite a few empty seats after intermission which is a shame.) I admire them for expanding their horizons. Bravo! 

Catherine Hellmann is a teacher, daughter of an educator, and mom of a teacher and a librarian. Education is important in her family. :-)  She loves to explore Chicago neighborhoods, experience theater, try new restaurants, and read lots of books, especially historical fiction.   

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the second of two Chicago-set world premieres in its season: Proximity, a trio of new American operas that confront head-on some of the greatest challenges affecting modern society: the devastating impact of gun violence on cities and neighborhoods, yearning for connection in a world driven by technology, and the need to respect and protect our natural resources. In an innovative production by director Yuval Sharon that is searing in its intimacy, revolutionary in its structure, and groundbreaking in its technical wizardry, Proximity is on stage at the Lyric Opera House for five performances only, March 24 – April 8, 2023.

Curated since its inception in 2019 by Lyric's Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming along with Lyric’s General Director Anthony Freud and Sharon, Proximity brings together some of the leading creative thinkers in American culture, all in their Lyric debuts. Daniel Bernard Roumain, the acclaimed Haitian-American composer, and Anna Deavere Smith, the legendary playwright and actress, have written The Walkers, an opera that gives voice to families grappling with gun violence in Chicago. Caroline Shaw, a Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer, has teamed with writer Jocelyn Clarke for Four Portraits, an opera about the impact of technology on society. And Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer John Luther Adams has written Night, a short opera on the fragility of the natural world, set to a text by the late poet John Haines. 

The three operas are spliced and shuffled to create an entirely new work that zooms in and out from the scale of the individual to the community to the cosmic. Proximity, the synthesis of these three works, offers a compelling snapshot of 21st century life with all of its complex intersections and reveals our everlasting capacity for hope. 

A daredevil director’s bold vision. Familiar to Lyric audiences from his immersive drive-through production of Twilight: Gods in 2021 and its resulting film, director and Chicago-area native Yuval Sharon provides the unifying vision for Proximity. Sharon is a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship winner who is widely acclaimed for the work of his Los Angeles-based experimental opera company The Industry as well as Detroit Opera, which he has led as Artistic Director since 2020. Sharon is known for his unconventional body of work that seeks to expand the operatic form. “The ultimate irony in working on a project called Proximity is that most of it was made in the era of social distance,” says Sharon. “We chose the name Proximity because it succinctly captured one of the opera’s fundamental ideas: we are closer to our fellow humans than we are often made to feel.”

A creative team that expands what is possible in opera. The sweeping visual ideas of director Sharon are realized by Proximity's pathbreaking design team. Production designers Jason H. Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras, who worked on Lyric’s Twilight: Gods, have created a stage design on a scale and complexity never before attempted in opera — a curved quarter-pipe video wall, 40 feet wide by 26 feet high, made of 140 LED panels and 240 black marble LED panels. Complemented by a robust on-set system of responsive cameras and other interactive features, the set design for Proximity affords audiences a new immersive way to experience opera.

Proximity also features the costume design of Carlos J. Soto, the sound design of Jody Elff, and the choreography of Rena Butler, all in their Lyric debuts.

Three distinct yet seamlessly woven sound worlds. Leading Proximity's musical forces is conductor Kazem Abdullah in his Lyric debut. Abdullah is a passionate advocate for new music who recently conducted Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels's Omar at LA Opera, where he was a member of its Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. Abdullah will guide the 69 players of the Lyric Opera Orchestra in bringing to life the three unique soundscapes of Proximity's three composers. The 43 members of the Lyric Opera Chorus will be led by chorus master Michael Black.

The Walkers

Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and libretto by Anna Deavere Smith

Composer Daniel Bernard Roumain is known for his signature violin sounds infused with myriad electronic and African-American musical influences. He is a composer of solo, chamber, orchestral, and operatic works, and has composed an array of film, theater, and dance scores. His previous work in opera includes the interdisciplinary chamber opera We Shall Not Be Moved, written with librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, which premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2017. He has worked with artists from Lady Gaga and Philip Glass to Bill T. Jones and Marin Alsop and has published more than 300 works.

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, teacher, and author. She is credited with creating a new form of theater by looking at current events from multiple points of view. Her theater combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance. Plays include Fires In the Mirror (a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize), Twilight: Los Angeles (nominated for two Tony Awards), House Arrest, and Let Me Down Easy. In 2012, President Obama awarded her the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal. Like Proximity director Yuval Sharon, she is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship. The Walkers is her first opera.

After Lyric connected Anna Deavere Smith to Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Diversity), an anti-gun-violence organization co-founded by Arne Duncan and Laurene Powell Jobs, Smith created the libretto following a series of interviews with Chicagoans whose families had experienced gun violence. Several of the characters in the opera are people she interviewed, including Arne Duncan, CRED counselor and former gang member Curtis Toler, and Yasmine Miller, the mother of a toddler who was shot and killed only months before the interview took place. Other characters are an amalgam of real people who work as counselors and people who have been helped by the organization. Smith's libretto uses the actual words of people to create monologues and dialogue.

At the start of The Walkers, we hear about the history of Chicago gang violence from Arne Duncan and Curtis Toler and we meet Bilal, who has been released from prison and is experiencing PTSD. We meet the fictional character of Lil’ Bunchy Bates, a child who deflects attempts to be recruited to gangs until he is shot and killed while playing basketball. Violence breaks out at his funeral, targeting the suspected perpetrator. Across the city, Yasmine Miller is shot in a drive-by shooting that kills her toddler. The story ends with a message of cautious hope that the epidemic of gun violence and the related crises of segregation, police abuse, and gang violence will all one day end, and that the community will finally find peace.

Leading the cast of The Walkers are soprano Whitney Morrison as Yasmine Miller and baritone Norman Garrett as Bilal. Morrison is an alumna of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric's acclaimed artist-development program. Last season at Lyric, she starred in Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Garrett has appeared with Lyric in Fire Shut Up in My Bones and in the recent world premiere of Will Liverman and DJ King Rico’s The Factotum. The cast also features baritone Gordon Hawkins as Preacher Man, tenor Issachah Savage as Curtis Toler, soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as Chief’s Daughter #1, and mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams as Chief’s Daughter #2.

The cast also includes several current members of the Ryan Opera Center Ensemble: bass Ron Dukes is Chief’s Son #1, tenor Martin Luther Clark is Chief’s Son #2, and soprano Lindsey Reynolds is Very Loud Girl. Rounding out the cast are tenor Jamion Cotten as Lil' Bunchy Bates and actor Jeff Parker as Arne Duncan. The children's chorus in The Walkers features 20 members of Uniting Voices Chicago under the direction of Josephine Lee.

Four Portraits

Music by Caroline Shaw and libretto by Caroline Shaw and Jocelyn Clarke

Composer Caroline Shaw is a musician who moves among roles, genres, and mediums; her recent work involves compositions for film, television, dance, and now opera. She was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Partita for 8 Voices and has received three Grammy Awards. She has written more than 100 works in the last decade, and has worked with artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma, Rosalía, Renée Fleming, and Nas. Her work as a vocalist or composer has appeared in the recent film Tár, the Showtime television series Yellowjackets, and the Netflix documentary of Beyonce’s Homecoming. Shaw's co-librettist Jocelyn Clarke is dramaturg at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and has recently served in the writers room for the Starz television series P-Valley. His work abroad includes time with the Arts Council of Ireland and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.

The first three of Shaw and Clarke's Four Portraits show a couple grappling with the disconnection of modern life — a fragmented telephone call with a bad connection, a crowded train of strangers, and a nighttime car trip with GPS. In the final scene, which begins with the first face-to-face conversation in the opera, spoken language recedes and acquiesces to the sonic landscape of the forest in a hopeful nod to a future unencumbered by technology.

Four Portraits stars countertenor John Holiday as A and baritone Lucia Lucas as B, both in their Lyric debuts. Holiday, winner of the Kennedy Center’s 2017 Marian Anderson Vocal Award, was recently seen in the Metropolitan Opera’s world premiere of The Hours and gained widespread fame for his appearance in Season 19 of NBC’s popular competition series The Voice. Lucas, an in-demand baritone who has sung at the Met, English National Opera, and across Europe, was featured in the recent documentary The Sound of Identity, which chronicled her journey as the first transgender woman to sing a leading role in a standard work at an American opera company.

Sopranos Kathryn Henry and Lindsey Reynolds, tenors Lunga Eric Hallam and Alejandro Luévanos, and bass Ron Dukes — current members of the Ryan Opera Center Ensemble — co-star as the Passengers, a group that also includes mezzo-sopranos Kathleen Felty (a Ryan Opera Center alumna) and Stephanie Sanchez and baritone Darren Drone. Mezzo-soprano Corinne Wallace-Crane sings the role of the GPS.


Music by John Luther Adams and libretto by John Haines

John Luther Adams began his career as an environmental activist and transitioned into composing upon realizing that music had a better chance of changing the world than politics. Since that time, he has become one of the most widely admired composers in the world, receiving both the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music and 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for Become Ocean, among many other honors.

For his contribution to Proximity, Adams was inspired by the work of his friend and longtime neighbor in Alaska, the late poet John Haines. One of Haines’s very last poems, Night offers a dark and troubling vision of the Earth's future, but Adams was drawn to its ultimate notes of hope and promise in the next generation, a theme that runs throughout each of Proximity's three works.

Night features mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams as an omniscient Greek sybil who launches the work's spiritual interrogations. Reams was seen earlier this season at Lyric as Ragonde in Rossini's Le Comte Ory.

Lyric strongly reinforces its commitment to new work. Following the extraordinary success of the world premiere of The Factotum earlier this season, Proximity continues to push boundaries for what is possible in and for opera. It brings a new kind of musical and theatrical experience to Lyric, to the city of Chicago, and to the world. Experience the world premiere of Proximity — only at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Important to know

·        Five chances to see Proximity: March 24, 26 (matinee), 29, April 5 (matinee), and 8.

·        A world premiere commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago: Proximity includes The Walkers, composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain with libretto by Anna Deavere Smith; Four Portraits, composed by Caroline Shaw with libretto by Caroline Shaw and Jocelyn Clarke; and Night, composed by John Luther Adams with libretto by John Haines.

·        Proximity addresses adult themes and contains some adult language.

·        Sung in English with projected English titles.

·        A total running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission.

·        Tickets and more information:

For updated information about Lyric’s ongoing health and safety protocols,

Lyric’s world premiere of Proximity is generously made possible by an Anonymous Donor, OPERA America, and support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.

Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, Music Director Enrique Mazzola, and Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.

Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.

Join us @LyricOpera on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. #LongLivePassion

For more information, visit


Sunday, March 26, 2023

REVIEW: Carmen at Lyric Opera On Stage Through April 7, 2023

 ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

One of the world’s most beloved operas returns to Chicago 
March 11 – April 7, 2023

Review of Carmen at Lyric Opera
By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

“If I love you, beware!” declares Carmen in Act I. Well, she warns the gullible soldier Don Jose right from the start, but he welcomes the danger. (shake my head…) 

J’Nai Bridges is a very seductive, beautiful Carmen who is hard to resist. Her Carmen is sexy and captivating. She is playful and confident---I loved when she chugged wine straight from the bottle at the bar. 

In contrast is the very sweet Micaela, a girl from Don Jose’s hometown, who brings a letter from his mother. Golda Schultz was making her Lyric debut as Micaela and has a gorgeous voice. She and Don Jose have a beautiful duet; Jose’s mother urges him to marry Micaela. But bad-girl Carmen is just too alluring for Don Jose. (sung by handsome tenor Charles Castronovo)

Carmen urges Don Jose to abandon the Army. He refuses until his commanding officer Lieutenant Zuniga approaches with hopes of seeing Carmen himself. A jealous Don Jose, in a very poor career move, strikes Zuniga. Don Jose is now like Pee Wee Herman: “a loner…a rebel.” 

The revolutionaries sing “when conniving, it’s good to have women along,” so Carmen is their girl. (ah, those sexist lyrics…the opera was first performed in 1875.) After her fling with Don Jose, Carmen quickly moves on to bullfighter Escamillo. 
A very awkward moment occurs when there is silence between Acts III and IV while sets are changed for new scenes. Some music from the orchestra and that gorgeous, familiar score would have been appreciated. My sis recognized much of the music, from the “Habanera” in Act I to the “Toreador Song” in Act II. Carmen is often the first introduction to opera for many audience members.   

The Lyric Opera Chorus and the Uniting Voices Chicago (UVC, formerly the Chicago Children’s Choir) do an admirable job as always. I’m often reminded of a Cecil B. DeMille movie with its “cast of thousands” since the Lyric productions are so epic. The costumes are gorgeous by Robert Perdziola, especially the ladies’ gowns and the bullfighters’ outfits with lots of sequins. 

By the end, Carmen is dead, having been stabbed by her former lover, Don Jose, when she rejects him. (“Does someone always die in an opera?” questioned my sister. “Usually,” I answered.) Oh, Don Jose…you should have listened to your mother. 

Catherine Hellmann teaches downtown at a cool charter school. She loves theater, Chicago history, museums, reading, walking, and finding new restaurants. (Riding the CTA daily sometimes provides the best live performances in the city!) She needs to get to Hawaii to claim all 50 states visited.  

Opera’s legendary femme fatale returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago with Bizet’s Carmen — March 11 – April 7, 2023 — starring J’Nai Bridges, a leading interpreter of the famous title role and a singer with deep Chicago roots. Audiences are invited to experience one of opera’s greatest hits, featuring iconic music that is instantly recognizable even for those new to the art form.

The diva you know and love. BET has described two-time Grammy Award winner J’Nai Bridges as “the Beyoncé of the opera world.” As Carmen, a signature role she has portrayed around the globe, that description couldn’t be more accurate. An alumna of Lyric’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center training program and a Kennedy Center Next 50 cultural leader, the mezzo-soprano makes her triumphant return to the Lyric stage. Bridges has appeared in more than 15 productions at Lyric and continues to shine as an unparalleled talent in opera.

A star-studded cast. Bridges is joined by Charles Castronovo as Don José. A critically acclaimed tenor, he was last seen at Lyric during the 2021/22 Season as Nemorino in The Elixir of Love. He is joined by South African soprano Golda Schultz as Micaëla in her Lyric debut. Schultz is the 2022 winner of the prestigious Bavarian Culture Prize, with the citation proclaiming that “a fantastic firework of tones fills the stage when Golda Schultz sings.” The first prize winner in the 2019 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, Ukrainian baritone Andrei Kymach sings the role of the charismatic bullfighter Escamillo in his Lyric debut.

An international supporting cast of future stars. This production of Carmen is heightened by members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center Ensemble. Mexican soprano Denis Vélez is Frasquita and mezzo-soprano and Michigan native Katherine DeYoung is Mercédès. Hailing from New York, tenor Ryan Capozzo is Remendado, while Colombian baritone Laureano Quant is Dancaïre. Bass Wm. Clay Thompson, a Kentucky native, is Zuniga, and baritone Wisconsinite Ian Rucker joins his fellow Ensemble members as Moralès. Rounding out this stellar cast is Mexican tenor Alejandro Luévanos as Lillas Pastia. 

Opera’s biggest blockbuster. The immensely talented Lyric Opera Orchestra will be led by accomplished conductor Henrik Nánási, who is acclaimed for his performances of Carmen in one of opera’s biggest theaters, the Arena di Verona. At Lyric, he was last seen during the 2019/20 Season in Madama Butterfly, and made a memorable debut in the 2015/16 Season leading Le nozze di Figaro. He served as general music director at Komische Oper Berlin from 2012 to 2017. Nánási is joined by talented stage director Marie Lambert-Le Bihan, whose work at Lyric includes La clemenza di Tito in the 2013/14 Season and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in the 2012/13 Season.

A proper operatic spectacle, Carmen features the talents of set designer Robin Don, costume design by Robert Perdziola, and lighting design from Chris Maravich. This production also includes a children’s chorus featuring members of Uniting Voices Chicago, led by Josephine Lee. As always, Lyric’s brilliant chorus will be directed by chorus master Michael Black. 

Dance the night away. This spirited production of Carmen features choreography from Stephanie Martinez. An award-winning Chicago-based dance artist and founder of the acclaimed PARA.MAR Dance Theatre, she was awarded Joffrey Ballet’s “Winning Works: Choreographers of Color” commission in 2015. Martinez is assisted by Noelle Kayser alongside ballet instruction courtesy of August Tye.

New to opera? Start with a certified classic. Carmen has cemented itself in popular culture with its iconic music and irresistibly tragic story. Audiences will fall in love with opera’s fiercest heroine, so get ready for the biggest operatic sensation of the season — only at Lyric Opera of Chicago. 

Important to know
· Eight chances to see Carmen: March 11, 15 (matinee), 19 (matinee), 22, 25, 30 (matinee), April 2 (matinee), and 7.
· Sung in French, with projected English titles.
· A total running time of 3 hours and 25 minutes, including two intermissions.
· For updated information about Lyric’s ongoing initiatives regarding health and safety protocols, visit
Lyric’s presentation of Bizet’s Carmen is generously made possible by Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, Liz Stiffel, and the Lauter McDougal Charitable Fund.

Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.

Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, Music Director Enrique Mazzola, and Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.

Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.

Join us @LyricOpera on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. #LongLivePassion

For more information, visit

Sunday, November 27, 2022

REVIEW: What the Elf? At Second City Chicago

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

What the Elf?


by Catherine “Land of Misfit Toys” Hellmann, Guest Critic 

Second City shows can be rather hit-or-miss. Like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of Advent chocolates, you never know just quite what you’re gonna get…I was sort of hoping that What the Elf? was going to be a hilarious sendup of my beloved movie, Elf. 

It’s not. But--it is very entertaining as an absurd collection of goofy holiday sketches with a very talented cast of six: three women and three men who deliver an exuberant collection of strange, oddball, occasionally touching, and frequently funny scenes. 

The show begins with a funny tribute song about Chicago scenes like The Bean and traditions like “Don’t Eat Ketchup on Your Hot Dog.” My first favorite sketch was a funny song by Javid Iqbal called “The Muslim Song” with lyrics that he “can’t wait to eat with you” at the end of Ramadan. 

Two “identical twin” elves appeared (never mind that they are different genders) to interact with the crowd with gift suggestions for those hard-to-buy-for loved ones on your list. Bill Letz’s over-the-top energy was incredible in every scene he inhabited. When told that one woman’s fiance loves “The Bears, wine, and his iPad,” the twins advise that she needs to get him “some other interests for Christmas.” The fiance was sitting right there, which made it even funnier, especially after a couple drinks. Another guest with a tough-to-buy-for relative was told: ”Get him a fucking flashlight or something.” 

One of our absolute favorite sketches was a game-show-like premise to guess “Which one is NOT an Elf?” One sweet-looking character, played by the very talented Jenelle Cheyne, had a surprise Satan voice, accompanied by her contorted face and hands, that was hysterical. The final summary was: “Don’t trust someone because they say things with conviction and have a platform.” Wise message. ;-) 

Before intermission, there was a wonderfully choreographed dance number from The Nutcracker performed in office chairs. That was a hoot! 

Scrooge and Jacob Marley did a wonderful sketch using audience suggestions that worked beautifully into the dialogue. Very funny results using lines of dialogue from movies and song lyrics, like the Bruce Springsteen line of “Tramps like us, baby we were born to run!” on Scrooge’s gravestone. (You couldn’t predict an awesome moment like that!) And “You shook me all night long!” very inappropriately said to sweet, innocent Tiny Tim. This is what improv was made for! 

Jenelle Cheyne had some marvelous audience interaction as a poor, hungry orphan begging for food from the front row. Someone gave her a lime, which she scoffed as “wet citrus.” She persuaded a woman to give her a coat and another lady her cell phone; those items she planned to sell on Ebay!

One of the highlights of the evening had to be the wives of the Three Wise Men dishing about their husbands. “For three wise men, our husbands can be morons!” That was a very inspired scene with their gossiping how Joseph was a carpenter who “must be good with his hands!” and how Mary “should have had a birth plan” before she gave birth in a manger! What was Mary thinking not getting a hotel reservation?! 

There was a bonus Act III with more of the pure improv and joy that has made Second City famous. It’s worth sticking around. 

Whether you live in town or the ‘burbs, if you're hanging at home for the holidays, or need to entertain out of town guests, What the Elf? is sure to please every adult on your list this holiday season.

Catherine Hellmann has a birthday near Christmas and has always felt rather ripped off. But at least she’s on vacation from school. Santa would put her on the naughty list based on swearing alone…  

What the Elf?

It’s just not the holidays without hot cocoa…and hot takes! Make merry at The Second City with this original sketch, variety, and improv celebration of the season. After all, what better time to look back and laugh at 2022? Let’s toast to the best…and roast all the rest. 

Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 7pm 

The Best of Holidays 

We guarantee yule laugh a whole latke as The Second City unwraps the most wonderful time of the year in our nut-cracking-est, jingle-bell-ing-est revue ever! Celebrate over sixty years of sketches, songs, and comedic conviviality as the next generation of comedy superstars perform our greatest holiday hits. 

Mondays at 8pm

Saturdays at 3pm 

Holiday Improv Brunch

From uproarious laughter to limitless libations, The Second City’s Holiday Improv Brunch is the gift that keeps on giving! Bring your band of merrymakers as we scramble together two of everyone’s favorites, comedy and brunch, for a scrumptiously seasonal breakfast with a totally improvised experience from the city’s finest. 

Sundays at noon


Thursday, August 11, 2022

REVIEW: Failure: A Love Story at Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview, On Stage Through September 4, 2022

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

Failure: A Love Story 

at Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview


By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

“Cool space!” we noted upon our arrival at the Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview. The front lobby has a nice bar, and complementary cookies are provided for patrons during every performance. Tucked away near the library and the Glenview House Restaurant, (where we had a lovely meal served by a young man with fabulous hair who reminded me of Patrick Swayze), this is the only Professional Theatre in Glenview. 

Photo Credit for all Production Shots, Gosia Photography

I was not acquainted with Failure: A Love Story, which may have detracted from my enjoyment. The script was kind of hard to follow for those of us unfamiliar with the storyline. Having one actress play the three sisters, and their mother, (Kendal Romero) was confusing. Some of the action, especially of the Snake character on the floor, (yes, there are Pet characters. Weird.) was difficult to see. The staging needs to be considered, as the sightlines were tough to overcome for the Short of Stature. 

The Fail Family “got rid of their ‘Bottoms”” at Ellis Island when their name was shortened from “Failbotton” to just “Fail.” Owning a clock company, “A ‘Fail Clock’ is a working clock,” provides for the family. (All the clocks on the walls, and the actors mimicking clocks, reminded me of my childhood home because my Mom loved clocks.) When the parents die, the sisters take over the family business downtown. 

The cast was very energetic and enthused. I liked the chorus parts played by Jasmine Robertson, Jordan Zelvin, and Philip J. Macaluso. The Chicago storyline was cool, opening with references to the Eastland disaster of 1915 which killed 844 people, including nearly two dozen entire families. The setting was all in Chicago, and the parents perish the day of the worst shipwreck on the Great Lakes. The entire show focuses on loss and death. The Mom loses a baby in 1910 and is never the same. One of the daughters dies accidentally on her wedding day. Another sister tries to swim Lake Michigan from Chicago to Indiana (wouldn’t it be Michigan?) but disappears in the process. (“Have you ever smelled Indiana?” asks one of the characters.) 

Failure: A Love Story reminds us how “it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” (Thank you, Alfred Lord Tennyson). 

Catherine Hellmann teaches teens by day and attends theater by night. She thinks sleeping until noon on Saturday is an accomplishment. 

By Philip Dawkins
Directed by Xavier Custodio

Oil Lamp Theater's 10th Anniversary season rolls on with this whimsical romp exploring life and death in the Roaring '20s. 

PLOT: The year is 1928 and we meet the Fail sisters: Nelly, Jenny June, and Gerty. Born in that order. The sisters were bubbly, determined, and brittle. Also in that order. Set in the family home and clock shop near the Chicago River, this magical, musical fable follows the Fail sisters’ triumphs and tragedies. As with so many things in life such as blunt objects, disappearances and consumption, the Fail sisters never saw death coming. Happily ever after can’t last forever. But in this upbeat look at life’s ups and downs, we learn you can either be a grump about death, or you can live, love, and sing some catchy songs along the way.

Trevor Earley: Mortimer Mortimer
Van Ferro: John N.
Philip J. Macaluso: Chorus Member
Kendal Romero: Gertie, Jenny June, Nelly Fail
Jasmine Robertson: Chorus Member
Jordan Zelvin: Chorus Member

Esther Fishbein: Gertie, Jenny June, Nelly Fail (U/S)
Rae Hamilton-Vargo: John & Chorus (U/S)
Katie Luchtenburg: Chorus Member (U/S)
Brooks Whitlock: Mortimer Mortimer (U/S)

Director: Xavier M. Custodio
Rochelle Hovde: Stage Manager
Philip Dawkins: Playwright
Greg Korak: Technical Director / Carpenter
Hannah Wien: Lighting Designer
Elizabeth Monti: Costume Designer
Ellen Markus - Co-Set Designer & Prop Designer
Jay Pastucha - Co-Set Designer

Thursday, 8pm
Friday, 8pm
Saturday, 3pm & 8pm
Sunday, 3pm

$35 - Previews July 21, 22, 23 (3pm)
$45 - Run July 23 (8pm) - Sept. 4
For tickets and more:

Xavier M. Custodio is one of the Co-Founders and Artistic Director of Visión Latino Theatre Company. He feels honored to be directing Failure: A Love Story, and getting the opportunity to work with Oil Lamp Theater to bring this fun story to life. Xavier’s directing credits includes: Y Tu Abuela, Where is She?, Baskerville: A Sherklock Holmes Mystery, Stories of Us, Fame, In The Heights, Yellow Eyes, Revolt, and Parachute Man (Assistant Director). He has been in the following productions: The Scarecrow (Minster Dodge), Rent (Benny), Godspell (John the Baptist), Man of La Mancha (Juan), Nine Lives: A Musical Web Series (BFPS Manger), Evita, Ragtime, and The Wiz.

Oil Lamp Theater recommends wearing masks when not actively eating or drinking.
Masks will be required for our Saturday 3pm matinees.

About OLT
Mission Statement

Oil Lamp Theater is a professional not-for-profit theater organization that is dedicated to the presentation of traditional theater in a unique, inviting and intimate venue. Its mission is not only to stimulate interest in the performing arts but also to promote a sense of, and provide a service to, the community.

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